Niamh Clune

Environment, poetry, comment, children's books,

In The Sandbox With Dr. Koshy

seamus heaney 2

Seamus Heaney

In this week’s, In The Sandbox, Ampat Koshy discusses a subject very close to my own heart ~ whether or not poetry is particularly national or not. I would like to add a slightly different note to the one made so well by Dr. Koshy, but one which adds another dimension to the discussion. Poet Laureate, Seamus Heaney, is a family friend, and I was lucky enough to attend a conference chaired by him on whether English is the language of colonialism.

We heard from poets and dissident writers from all over the world, some of whom had been imprisoned for speaking out against colonialistic or treacherous regimes. At the end of this wonderful event, Seamus Heaney summed up by saying he didn’t think English was a language of colonialism ~ oppression was not why, for example, the Irish learned to speak it so well and so uniquely. Soup kitchens and such-like might, in the beginning, have been a reason that people turned from speaking Gaelic to English, but not in the long-run. English is a language in which you can dream, a language of beauty through which any people might express their national soul.

I interpreted what Heaney was saying as follows: the breadth of English, the sound of its music is flexible enough to speak the soul of the rocks and mountains, the rain and sky, embracing  the thoughts and feelings of any people’s bloodied landscape or troubled heart. The language itself is both national and universal.

It is the task of the poet to speak of themes that touch us universally. His or her unique way of expressing such themes will be fed by a national, blood-line history and religion, as well as the innate, inborn mythology and imagery hidden in the racial soul.

Thank you Dr. Koshy for bringing us this week’s subject.

Should Irish poetry be Irish or universal or both?

By Dr. Ampat Koshy

For me, coming from Kerala, learning in the 70s and 80s, Irish poetry, Irish literature and Ireland held a strange fascination, primarily due to figures like Yeats, O’Casey, Synge, Joyce, Beckett, and later Heaney. The fascination had something to do with the mayhap, illusory feeling that Ireland might have been a bit like Kerala at some imaginary point in time. I imagined that the landscapes were similar and felt keenly the uneasiness of Ireland’s relationship with England.

When I started reading Irish poetry, I began with the early Yeats of the ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree’, the romantic Yeats who had made Pound laugh for being outdated, and went on to the later mature Yeats who wrote poems like the unforgettable ‘Easter 1916’. I then read Joyce’s “Pomes Penyeach” and “Chamber Music” and found them memorably forgettable at a younger age. I was impatient and turned to doing research on Beckett’s poems (a not- much- worked- on area)  and finally ceased my inquiry into Irish poetry after reading some Heaney. I also looked  briefly at the works of some poets that Beckett had mentioned disparagingly in some of his critical articles like Denis Devlin. Recently Irish poetry and writing has come back into my life through meeting writers like the metaphysical poetess Niamh Clune, and the exciting “new voice,” Alan Patrick Traynor.

Thinking on all these poets and their poems now, in a limited fashion I try to grasp hold of some kind of commonality or difference to unite all of them in my mind that does not seem to exist, except for the concept of Irishness. But what exactly constitutes Irishness or for that matter Indianness, this concept of nationality or nation or nationalisms; that too in poetry? How or why does one say of a poet that he or she is typically Indian while another is not? Yeats is typically Irish, it is said, for instance, as Tagore is Indian, while Beckett is ‘not’ Irish and I,  – in a very much lesser vein, of course, as of now – am not Indian.

The pejorative note in the latter accusation is not justified. But the more interesting question is the other one, of whether there can be a national poetry and if so what would it have to consist of to make it that? Does poetry belong to any nation except its own? If the answer is no, is the difference merely of content or of something more, including all the other erstwhile elements of poetry?

My contention is that one does not have to try to be national in one’s writing,  that either nation is as artificial a creation as religion, or however much one tries to write in a manner free of the concept of nation, one cannot. It comes through anyway and need not be forced.

my way is in the sand flowing

between the shingle and the dune

the summer rain rains on my life

on me my life harrying fleeing

to its beginning to its end

my peace is there in the receding mist

when I may cease from treading these long shifting thresholds

and live the space of a door

that opens and shuts

This beautiful poem is by Samuel Beckett, and while I, a reader originally from Kerala, can identify with it easily as  Kerala and India also have sand, shingles, dunes, summer rain, mist and doors, one is also reminded that these are intrinsic to the Irish and perhaps French landscapes too. Finally what unites us here in our appreciation of the poem which is a comment on life, that each individual’s life is confusing and tiring, and the poet’s desire is that it be made simple, is the imagery of the poetry and the humanness in the poem’s and the poet’s words. It can be considered both as particular to a nation’s poetic voice and at the same time belonging to the nation of poetry and the universality of mankind, thus achieving a rare, fragile and fine balance between  these two often contradictory, but inescapable pulls.

About Dr Niamh

When I was a little girl (a very, very long time ago), I used to love learning new, really big words like ‘discombobulate’. As I grew, my love of words grew too, until I loved them so much, I could not stop writing them down. One day, as I was scribbling a particular word, a very peculiar thing happened. The word shouted at me, “Stop! Don’t put me there!” As you can imagine, I was shocked and nearly fell off my chair. When I recovered somewhat, I said to the word, “Could you stop shouting, please? I am not used to it.” Can you guess what happened next? No! I thought not. The word said, “I might be small, but I will misbehave if you do not use me properly. I will not tell the story you would like me to tell. I will say something entirely different!” I dropped my pen. I hoped that by dropping my pen, the word would stop talking. Alas! It did not. It carried on chitterchobbling, even after the ink had dried. I was in a pickle. I could not allow my words to run away with my story, now could I? I don’t know about you, but when this sort of thing happens, there is only one thing left to do if you prefer not to spend your time arguing. “Very well,” said I. “I will do as you ask if you will just be quiet and allow me to concentrate.” Since that day, I have been paying special attention to every word I invite into my stories. After all, a story should say exactly what it means to say and not be led astray. With love from Dr. Niamh, Ph.D in Learning Through The Imagination and Founder of Dr Niamh Children's Books.

29 comments on “In The Sandbox With Dr. Koshy


    The Irish are a bull
    in a field
    the english language
    is the finely knit grass of tennis
    but not the turf and NOT the bedrock
    that holds the bull up into its written stance

    As an Irish poet I use the grass and sod
    for many purposes
    while my psyche pulls the original older music up
    from the turf and out through
    my nose

    There are NO masters of any language
    or music
    but humanity does come
    marching through the fields with a red coat arrogant
    and hands armed with rifles to be written down!
    As writers
    we write it down based on the shape
    of the ring that was placed through our nose
    and down into our throats
    we brand the music as we see fit

    When dogs bark you see their teeth
    and throat
    When horses neigh
    we see their eyes

    The Irish were never tamed by the english language
    so we use it with our sunken hooves
    as a tennis match uses a net

    The Irish are a bull in a field
    And the language of a bull
    is in his stance
    not the grass or the wire wooden woollen fence
    that holds him in

    Like all writers we breathe in our environment
    and spit back out the rocks into the colours of the fields

    Being Irish is being the music
    that’s craved from the light of your soul down into the blood of your body
    If I speak the language of symbols
    you will still hear my stance
    If I play with wooden spoons
    or a silver tongue you will still hear my soul
    coming up through the bedrock and out through the sod

    it’s all music
    and the shape of an Irish soul is written in the rocks
    the saxicolous stance unto the fields
    that stands unto and upon the language that was born into us

    It can’t be translated or digested without the music
    unless you beat the steel drum out from our guts
    out through our throats
    and down into the bedrock
    where it came from

    When you smell the blood of the music
    and feel the stance of the bull
    and taste the cut grass that hangs from our eyes

    then you have entered into our psyche…it’s not red that we live for
    it’s the green galvanic lightning that haunts the smoke
    in the morning fields

    There is an old smoke that can’t be translated
    so we put up with the english language, luggage and our translators
    our own language is beyond vocals and beyond text book
    even beyond the field that we were blooded in
    beyond the wire woolen fence
    beyond the grass court that rolls marbles into their mouths, the wannabe Irish

    What you catch into the net is only a butterfly of movement
    being a writer transcends what’s written down
    otherwise the muse would have moved to Ireland years ago
    and set up house in an old thatched cottage with stones for teeth
    and straw for hair

    The muse is an untouchable chalk
    try own it
    and it crumbles into where you were born

    DUST…the language of birth and death

    Alan Patrick Traynor
    1st August 2013


    • ontheplumtree
      August 1, 2013

      Stunning! Alan. You have said with fire and brimstone what I said gently in the introduction. The power of a poet is forged in history, written on blood and tempered in language.


      August 1, 2013



    • Shawn MacKENZIE
      August 3, 2013

      Yes, Alan! A resounding Yes!


    • the secret keeper
      August 5, 2013

      You tear out the truth with the power and blood spurting forth your words. They stand strong and express the fury. We are who we are and still can be connected with each other but don’t steal our identity or force out of us our nature to join in a sameness. All are individual and we blend in the universal. No forcing of the muse. She gives freely if you let her in and flow through you. Alan Patrick, your poem moves my soul and heart. I feel your strength and fire. So pleased you released your words as they find their place on the page. Niamh, the poet and writer in you spoke so honestly. In our blood, I will not surrender my blood. It belongs to me and lives in me. It is my own and shared with those I feel it with but I am not a nationalist and believe in a unified world but my herstory is my own and it will be mine always and cannot be forgotten. TY Alan Patrick and Niamh Clune for speaking what I feel and speaking words I hear. Jennifer Kiley @>-;—


  2. Great poem 🙂


  3. Shawn MacKENZIE
    August 1, 2013

    Reblogged this on MacKENZIE's Dragonsnest.


  4. Madhumita Ghosh
    August 1, 2013

    Loved this week’s write-up- the intro by Niamh Clune, the column by Dr.Koshy and the excellent poem by Alan Patrick Traynor.


    • ontheplumtree
      August 1, 2013

      Many thanks for your comment, Madhumita. It is a subject that stirs the blood!


  5. This is my prose, or proemose, either way it’s got thorns prose poem or rose!Ha

    Thanks Niamh for you fine woven introduction and thank you Ampat for opening up Pandora’s Green Box! 😉

    Shawn, watch your hands don’t get burnt throwing the flames onto your blog 🙂 Thank you!

    Madhumita thank you for your comment and wonderful presence…

    -Alan Patrick Traynor


  6. soziebird
    August 1, 2013

    Ahhh . . it is as if we are merely sitting around a fire with companions of wit & wisedom ~ listening, learning … discussing things of stars & stone. Excellent !


  7. Yes Sozie 😉 Stars and stones raining backwards upward into the ground 😉


  8. thanks shawn 🙂


  9. thanks madhumita 🙂


  10. thanks sozie bird 🙂


    August 1, 2013

    Reblogged this on PLANET LOBSTER.


  12. thiskidreviewsbooks
    August 1, 2013

    What a great post! I think we can all appreciate poetry from anywhere. 🙂


  13. Ampat Koshy
    August 2, 2013

    thanks to all 🙂


  14. PLANET LOBSTER, you are a genius of the sea and the foot on land that holds up what true dignity is all about…Thanks Scott, you are the best


  15. Anywhere is where the muse is from Mr. Kid 😉


  16. Pingback: In The Sandbox With Dr. Koshy | BUTTERFLIES OF TIME

    • ontheplumtree
      August 8, 2013

      Great comments, Butterflies! Sizzle we do!!! Unafraid to court discussion.


  17. toad (chris jensen)
    August 8, 2013

    Reblogged this on thisoldtoad.


  18. thanks reena and thisoldtoad 🙂


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